While Tokaibayashi Tsuyoshi directed various films in many genres, he is most well-known and acclaimed for his LGBTQ+ films. One if his first works, Lost In The Garden (1995), for instance, won the Special Jury Award at the Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. His short film, Old Narcissus (2017), for that matter, was screened at various international festivals and collected many awards. His latest film, The Fish With One Sleeve, explores romance from a transsexual perspective and features, unlike other films dealing with transsexuality, a transgender as its lead.
One day, Hikari Shintani (Yu Ishizuka), a transgender in transition who works at an ornamental fish company called Amphitrite, is asked by her boss Keiko Yamanaka (Hara Hideko) to go to her hometown for work. She musters up her courage and texts her former classmate Takashi Hisada (Hisao Kurozumi), a boy with whom she fell in love with. By meeting him, she can finally reveal herself as woman.
The Fish With One Sleeve is a narrative that explores the difficulty of the transgender subject to feel at ease within the societal environment as well as the necessity for this subject to show one’s gender to the Other to be able to fully embrace their subjective position.
Hikari Shintani, as becomes clear in the opening stages of this short narrative, suffers from the very difficulties people have in giving transgenders a place within society that does not confront them with the ‘strange’ position they hold for them. In other words, the riddle of the transgender subject’s gender hinders people from meeting the transitioned subject or the subject-in-transition as subject. Moreover, the subjection of the transgender subject to this riddle creates a consciousness of one’s Otherness in the transgender subject. The consciousness of such Otherness inhibits the subject and causes him/her to avoid meeting the other with the gendered image that reflects their subjective position.
The gender-riddle, in short, problematizes the social bond. This is elegantly symbolized via the glass of the fish tank, which forms a barrier between the transgender subject as a colourful fish (e.g. a clownfish) and the other subject as merely a ‘spectator’. The fish tank, as subtle implied by the similarities of colour-schemes, symbolizes the ‘hidden’ place (i.e. the bar) where Hikari can form social bonds with other transgenders. This place escapes, in a certain sense, the eye of the societal Other.
The Fish With One Sleeve also shows that to fully embrace one’s gender one needs to break the glass of the fish tank and put oneself within the eye of others with whom one shared a bond. Whether these others can accept the gendered image that reflects the transgender subject’s position or not is not that important. What’s important is than such encounter, irrespective of the outcome, can aid the transgender subject in embracing more firmly his/her subjective position.
The composition of Fish With One Sleeve stands out due to its beautiful shots of fish-tanks as well as the meaningful use of sounds and music. As a matter of fact, both elements underline that Tsuyoshi knows how to play with symbolism and how to imply the emotional impact of signifiers or images on a subject in an elegant manner.
With The Fish With One Sleeve, Tokaibayashi Tsuyoshi delivers an important and elegantly delivered narrative that reveals how a societal system, which struggles with the newly-posed riddle of gender, problematizes the integration of the transgender subject in its fabric. Yet, Tsuyoshi’s narrative also emphasizes that, despite such societal system, the transgender subject needs to show him/her to the Other, not only to transform the societal system but also to help the subject to embrace its gender more firmly.